Two years ago she was found dead in her block apartment in Moscow. It may be chilling coincidence but she was killed on Vladimir Putin’s birthday. Russian journalist, Anna Politkovskaya, paid the highest price for doing her job.
On October the 7th two years ago, 48-year old, Politkovskaya drove to a local supermarket. Her pregnant daughter had planned to meet her there but was late.
As a surveillance camera later showed, Anna was not alone. A young woman and a tall, slender man have been following her.
Politkovskaya made her name reporting for Russia’s liberal newspaper, Novaya Gazeta. On the day of her murder, Politkovskaya had planned to file a lengthy story on torture practices believed to be used by Chechen authorities.
Anna drove home and parked her silver Vaz 2110 just outside her apartment block. The entrance security system was in order.
She carried two bags of groceries in the building’s elevator up to her apartment, on the seventh floor and dropped them at the door. Then she went down to get the rest of the shopping
When the elevator opened on the ground floor she met her killer.
He shot her four times, the last shot was a control shot from inches away, in the head. A pistol was left by her side – the obvious hallmark of a contract killing.
The gun found was a 9mm Marakov, known as the weapon of choice for Russian hitmen.
After her murder, President Putin claimed that Politkovskaya’s influence on political life in the country was “extremely insignificant” and that the consequences of her murder were in fact more serious for him than the “damage inflicted by her articles”.
Politkovska was recognized and honored with numerous international awards for her work, bravery and commitment.
She often said that with a KGB officer as president, the least you could do was to smile sometimes, to show the difference between him and you.
Two years later
Political opponents of the Kremlin can end up in jail, such as the oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, only Iraq has claimed more journalists’ lives than Russia in the past decade. Though, nobody is suggesting that Mr Putin had anything to do with the deaths.
Former Russian spy and author of a book critical of Russian president Vladimir Putin, Alexander Litvinenko, had publicly accused Putin of her murder. He was poisoned a few months later.
At the end of August, last year, the Kremlin proudly announced that it was close to solving Politkovskaya’s murder. Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika said that 10 suspects had been arrested, mostly Chechens, but also three former police officers and an employee of the domestic intelligence agency, the FSB. The case was as good as solved.
He blamed conspirators interested in undermining President Vladimir Putin’s authority and destabilising Russia.
Anna Politkovskaya’s son, Ilya Politkovsky, told Reuter news agency that Mr Chaika’s announcement was politically motivated. A prominent journalists’ organisation in Moscow – the Centre for Journalism in Extreme Situations – has called the official version a fabrication. Also former associates of Politkovskaya were skeptical about Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika’s murder plot theory.
And, within days many of the 10 arrested suspects had been released and the investigation had been severely compromised.
Brave beyond believe
“Anna published over 500 articles in the Novaya Gazeta. Almost each of them could have been the reason of her murder” – claims the Editorial Board of the Novaya Gazeta.
Politkovskaya was writing form the wrecked villages and shattered towns of Chechnya, talking to soldiers’ mothers, trying to find their sons’ corpses in military morgues. She constantly reported on “filtration camps”, where kidnapped Chechens, often teenagers, suffered torture, mutilation, rape and death.
She had been in Chechnya over 40 times. On one occasion she said: “I simply reported what I saw. I feel that it’s my professional duty – if you hide information, you have failed in your duty.”
“Actions of authorities are supported by a huge propaganda machine. This machine has been able to create a picture of the enemy, this enemy living down south.”
Anna had been trough a lot but always came back for more. She had been locked in a hole in the ground by Russian troops and threatened with rape. On her way to Rostov, after the Beslan school siege in 2004 she was poisoned by FSB and nearly died.
Politkovskaya had acted as a negotiator in the Dubrovka theatre siege in Moscow in 2002, when 129 people died after the special services released gas into the building. A year earlier, she had been forced to flee to Vienna after receiving serious death threats.
During a conference on the freedom of press organized by Reporters Without Borders in December 2005, Politkovskaya said: “People sometimes pay with their lives for saying aloud what they think. In fact, one can ever get killed for giving me information. I am not the only one in danger. I have examples that can prove it.”
She had piles of post and hundreds of phone calls, people were offering information, more often asked for help.
Over the past 15 years, Russia has become the third-deadliest country in the world for journalists, after conflict-ridden Iraq and Algeria, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
It is estimated that 47 journalists have been killed in Russia since 1992. More than half of them lost their lives after Vladimir Putin came to power in 2000 and the majority of the murders have never been solved.
Shot, stabbed or poisoned, the cases have two things in common: no one has been convicted, or even arrested.
The Kommersant reporter, Ivan Safronov, is the most recent journalist to die in suspicious circumstances.
Despite falling four floors from a window in his Moscow apartment block, he did not die immediately. Witnesses say he tried to get to his feet after hitting the ground, but then collapsed for the final time.
The police say the death of the well-respected journalist, who worked for the daily Kommersant newspaper, has all the hallmarks of suicide – though they are willing to consider the possibility that he was “driven” to kill himself. But his friends insist he was not the sort to take his own life. Why should he?
In September The prosecutor’s office of Moscow Central Administrative District closed the criminal investigation because of ‘an absence of foul play’.